The (Delusional) Stories We Tell Ourselves

Monday, January 23, 2023

I once knew a couple who took stock of their marriage every year to decide if they were going to renew the contract. There is something ghastly about undergoing an annual performance review of your love, but it does speak to the need to ward off a certain laziness in deed and thought that can waft in and quietly start stinking.
In a similar way, occasionally questioning what we think we know about ourselves would be a smart thing to do since we think we know – even absolutely know – so many lopsided things about ourselves having to do with: what we need in order to be happy, what others think of us, our relative value in the world, what we must do to survive, how we need to defend ourselves, what others are taking from us, our ability to adapt and grow, what is survivable, and what causes our suffering, among a million other things.
For example, for a long time I told myself a story about what a bad daughter I was because I didn’t do more for my elderly parents, as if everything I did do and was able to do meant nothing. And then I told another story, a defensive and controlling one, about what I was able to do. My relationship with my parents was then and is now really good, but it would have been qualitatively improved and a lot more fun without those stories, which did nothing but interfere with the goodness of our time while killing little pieces of my spirit. (The story still lingers but in lesser ways.)
These stories we tell can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage, and Compassion, Koshin Paley Ellison explains the dangerous power behind these proclamations we make about who we are:

“I had a conversation with someone recently who said, ‘I’m a fearful person. I’m difficult. Things don’t work out for me.’ We create these narratives and abracadabra—they become sentences of power. The word abracadabra is an old Aramaic phrase, abara meaning ‘may it be created,’ and cadabra meaning ‘I have spoken.’ So, the way we speak about ourselves, the way we name ourselves, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Speech has that power. When we say, ‘I’m this way’ or ‘I’m that way,’ we’re defining ourselves, and when we define ourselves as being this way or that way, we always make ourselves smaller. The truth is that we’re too complex to define, and we can’t get a bird’s-eye view of ourselves that would allow for accurate definitions anyway.
Enough already. Instead of defensively controlling my world so tightly which I do with my parents and many, many other things, this time next year I want to be spending a lot more time “riding the horse in the direction it’s going,” as author and personal & professional development expert Werner Erhard discusses. It won’t be anything extreme like Saying Yes to Everything – I would never survive that (did you catch how easily I storied myself there?). It will be more of an inquiry into how I might relax my ego defenses enough to ride the horse more often in the direction it is going instead of so immediately putting up resistance to protect myself from what I perceive is at the cost of something vital.
That’s my story but my stories are just a starting place for a conversation. If you were to take stock of the stories you tell about yourself that have trapped you in some way, which one would you most like to revise in 2023? Which one of your delusional stories is causing you the most pain?
Then, abracadabra, before you know it a year will have passed and we can see how much of the same old story we’re still telling.
Here’s to seeing through our constructions. And so begins a brave new day,